What to Read from Latin America: Mexico

by Simone Visentin

Latin America has been home to many successful and influential writers including Octavio Paz, Gabriel García Márquez, and Isabel Allende, just to name a few. Latin American authors have been recognized for their novels full of description and imagery, and made their countries the home of important literary movements such as the Latin American “Boom” or Mexican “Crack Generation.” In this series of articles, we present a number of literary works that have been considered the most influential and important in Latin America and translated into English. I will begin with my own beloved country, Mexico.

Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfopedro paramo
Translated by Margaret Sayers Peden, 1994

Published in 1955, this is the only novel written by Juan Rulfo and yet is not only considered the most representative novel of Mexican literature but also one of the most influential novels in the world: in fact, Gabriel García Marquez claimed that this novel helped him create his own brand of magical realism. Moreover, this work is the pinnacle of magical realism thanks its imagery, immense descriptions, and its way of breaking of the notion of time and space used by Rulfo, making this story appear timeless. It is the emotional and dramatic story of a man named Juan Preciado who, after his mother’s death, goes searching for the titular Pedro Páramo — his father — to reclaim what his father took away from them when he abandoned them. Upon arriving in Comala, the town where his father lived, he begins talking to the inhabitants of this ghost town and, through the stories of the people, comes to understand who his father was. Moreover, it turns out that the people of this ghost town are themselves in fact more dead than alive. This short novel is made up of different short stories that represent the testimonies of the inhabitants of Comala. Since its publication, this thrilling and passionate novel has been translated into more than 20 different languages. The novel was translated into English by Margaret Sayers Peden in 1994, who did an amazing job recreating the emotions and thrill that this iconic novel offers in the original Spanish. If you enjoy magical realism and are interested in Mexican literature, this is the perfect novel to get you started.

labyrinth of solitudeEl Laberinto de la Soledad / The Labyrinth of Solitude by Octavio Paz
Translated by Lysander Kemp, 1994

Published in 1950, this is one of the most important works of Octavio Paz, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1990. This book-length essay, divided into nine parts, is truly a primer towards the understanding of complex Mexican culture and the historical factors that shaped Mexican identity. Octavio Paz focuses on an underlying theme of solitude. According to him, the experience of solitude is behind every Mexican’s understanding of death, social interaction and personal identity. Stemming from the indigenous understanding and celebration of death, Mexican people by nature do not fear its solitary force. But with the arrival of the Spanish and European thought, the uncertain nature of death became of greater concern to the Mexican people. As for social interactions, Octavio Paz argues that the fiesta offers a sense of unity and community among people: it is an opportunity to escape solitude and show one’s true identity, which is usually hidden behind a mask of reservation. Paz’ perspective on Mexican nature showcases the way in which Mexicans inherited two different cultures–indigenous and Spanish. By failing to embrace either part of their compound identity, the Mexican people fall into a labyrinth of solitude. This book is a must-read for every Mexican. Octavio Paz’s amazing writing style will trap you in this book, like the titular labyrinth; the only escape is in finishing it. The book has been translated into English by Lysander Kemp, who must have had a difficult time translating this great essay as much slang and many Mexicanisms are present throughout the entire work.

Aura, by Carlos Fuentesaura
Translated by Lysander Kemp, 1986

First published in 1962, this short novel by Carlos Fuentes, winner of the Miguel de Cervantes Prize, is one of the most particular and eccentric novels of Mexican literature. One unique characteristic of this novel is that it is written in the second person, which gives the sense that Fuentes is talking right to you as a reader. This is the ghostly love story between a young man, Felipe Montero, and a young woman, Aura, appearing to him as a ghost. Felipe gets hired by an old widow named Consuelo to finish writing the memoirs of her late husband, the General Llorente. The more time passes, the more his love for Aura grows and the more he starts to realize who he really is—and who Aura is as well. This short novel is clearly a representation of the literary genre of magical realism. The novel is spooky and the more you read, the more you feel yourself in the story as Felipe Montero himself. The book begs to be finished in one sitting, which is possible as it is only 62 pages long. The novel was translated into English by Lysander Kemp in 1986 and is available in a bilingual edition to read in both English and Spanish. For those of you who enjoy thrilling ghost stories, this is definitely a great novel for you.

Stay tuned: The next entry will be for Venezuela!

Simone Visentin is a student in Toronto, Canada. He is working to complete his degree in SimoneCommunication Studies and a certificate in Spanish-English translation at York University. He is passionate about languages and music. He speaks Italian, Spanish, English and French. He is also a songwriter, music producer and Radio Host for Radio Glendon.

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